RACHMANINOV: 4 Preludes; Fantasy Pieces, Op. 3; MUSSORGSKY: Pictures at an Exhibition – David Allen Wehr, piano – Connoisseur Society CD 4252, 66:51 ****:
Pianist David Allen Wehr has built an impressive discography, and he now adds some hearty Russian staples to his legacy. His opening Rachmaninov group consists of four preludes, the first three of which testify to the liquid phrase and the composer’s penchant for nostalgia, although the G Minor’s outer sections shimmer with military pomp. The B-flat Prelude, however, has a Lisztian flair and bravura – a convulsive theatricality. The ensuing Op. 3 (1892) pieces include the ubiquitous Prelude in C Sharp Minor, which Wehr takes with pregnant pauses. The lovely Elegie and Melodie permit us to savor Wehr’s legato, while the irreverent Polichinelle bounces with allusions both to Schumann and to the Commedia dell’arte in the form of puppet theater.
To compete in the intimidating market of available inscriptions of Pictures at an Exhibition (1874) is already a sign of pianistic confidence, and Wehr has plenty of digital firepower to compare with the titanic readings of Richter, Graffman, and Horowitz. Wehr does not pound away in heaven-storming fury. He can achieve a febrile glitter, as in the Tuilleries gardens; the grotesque Gnomus, with its approximation of twelve-tone sonority, is menacing in the way of Poe’s Hop-Frog. I found Bydlo, the Polish ox-cart, compelling. The descent into the Catacombs reminds us that Moussorgsky is on a spiritual journey akin to Dante’s – a conversation with the dead, and then a vision of folkish horror in Baba Yaga, culminating in an apotheosis of the Promenade in the Great Gate of Kiev, aka the Kingdom of Heaven. Recorded March 2001 at the Music Hall in Tarrytown, NY, the Yamaha CF 111 S has a superb resonance, courtesy of producer E. Alan Silver. Solid musicianship here, and piano collectors will cherish Wehr’s sympathy for Rachmaninov.